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Melott v. ACC Operations

July 10, 2006

KAREN MELOTT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ACC OPERATIONS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Holschuh

Magistrate Judge King

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Karen Melott sued her former employer, Defendant ACC Operations, Inc. ("ACC"), asserting claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and tortious interference with a business relationship. This Court's jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. This matter is currently before the Court on Defendant ACC's motion for summary judgment. (Record at 23). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants that motion.

I. Background and Procedural History

This case involves a conflict between Plaintiff Karen Melott and her former employer, Defendant ACC Operations, Inc. ("ACC"). The facts are essentially undisputed. In July 1996, Melott began working for Frontier Vision, a cable operator, as a Customer Service Representative in Chillicothe, Ohio. (Melott Dep. at 7-8; Melott Aff. at ¶ 1). ACC acquired Frontier Vision in 1997 and the Chillicothe Call Center became an ACC facility. (Melott Dep. at 7-8; Melott Aff. at ¶ 1). ACC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Adelphia Communications Company ("Adelphia"). (Trippe Aff. at ¶ 2). ACC provides employees to Adelphia entities and handles all human relations functions for the personnel who staff Adelphia entities like the Chillicothe Call Center. (Id. at ¶ 3).

In 1997, Melott was promoted to the position of Lead Customer Service Representative. (Melott Dep. at 8; Melott Aff. at ¶ 2). In 2002, ACC promoted Melott to the position of Customer Service Representative Supervisor. (Melott Dep. at 8-9; Melott Aff. at ¶ 2). As a Supervisor, Melott was responsible for a team of 15 employees. (Melott Dep. at 9-10; Melott Aff. at ¶ 2). Melott received an employee handbook in 2001 and signed an "Acknowledgment" form, stating she understood that her employment with Adelphia was at-will (Melott Dep. at 16-17), and that this at-will employment relationship could be changed only by a written agreement, signed by Adelphia's Chief Executive Officer, setting forth a specific term of employment. Melott agreed to abide by the policies in the handbook. (Id. at 19-20).

In July 2003, Melott approached Steve Trippe, the Operations Manager of the Chillicothe facility, Brenda Holdren, the Call Center Manager and Melott's direct supervisor, and Gerald Jordan, the Call Center Director, to discuss Melott's desire to transfer to another facility. (Melott Dep. at 59-60; Melott Aff. at ¶ 6). Melott explained to them that her husband was physically abusive. (Melott Dep. at 62). Because Melott feared for her own safety and that of her children, she wanted to move to a location unknown to her husband. (Id. at 61; Melott Aff. at ¶ 4). Trippe suggested that Melott search the Internet for available positions at other Adelphia facilities. (Melott Dep. at 65). Melott discovered an opening at Adelphia's facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Id. at 65-66; Melott Aff. at ¶ 7). Melott called the facility and spoke to Judy Blackstone, a Human Resources Manager. (Melott Dep. at 67; Melott Aff. at ¶ 7). During this phone call, Blackstone offered Melott a position as a Customer Service Representative. (Melott Dep. at 66; Melott Aff. at ¶ 7). They agreed on an hourly wage (Melott Dep. at 67; Melott Aff. at ¶7) and set as Melott's start date September 26, 2003 (Melott Dep. at 68). After her telephone conversation with Blackstone, Melott had a conference with Trippe, Holdren, and Jordan and informed them that she had accepted a position in West Palm Beach. (Id.at 66, 69; Melott Aff. at ¶ 8). During this conference, Trippe and Jordan agreed to help Melott in "any way" they could. (Melott Dep. at 108-09; Melott Aff. at ¶ 6). The three managers agreed to keep the transfer confidential. (Melott Dep. at 70).

Melott originally intended to leave Chillicothe in September of 2003 (Melott Aff. at ¶ 9) and use her accrued paid leave while she relocated to Florida (Melott Dep. at 51; Melott Aff. at ¶ 8). However, when the threats of violence escalated at home, Melott left for Florida on August 12, 2003. (Melott Dep. at 70; Melott Aff. at ¶ 9). Melott called in each day she was scheduled to work, informing the Call Center that she would not be working that day. (Melott Dep. at 72-73; Melott Aff. at ¶ 10). When she called, Melott did not speak to Trippe, Holdren, or Jordan (Melott Dep. at 114; Melott Aff. at ¶ 10). Melott did not file a request for personal leave. (Melott Dep. at 33-36, 74).

In early September, an ACC payroll employee told Melott that she had exhausted her paid leave.*fn1 (Id. at 55, 120). Nevertheless, Melott did not return to work but continued calling in each day. (Id. at 118). On September 11, 2003, ACC's Chillicothe facility discharged Melott from employment because of her continued absences from work. (Id.at 79). Blackstone then notified Melott that because ACC had terminated her, she was ineligible for hire at the West Palm Beach facility. (Id. at 79, 133; Melott Aff. at ¶ 12).

On January 20, 2005, Melott sued ACC. On April 1, 2005, ACC filed a motion to dismiss. Because Melott attached documents outside the pleadings to her memorandum in opposition, the Court notified the parties that it intended to convert the motion into a motion for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). ACC later withdrew its motion to dismiss, and Melott filed an amended complaint, asserting claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and tortious interference with a business relationship. (Amd. Compl. at ¶¶ 18, 20, 22). Melott argues that the managers broke their promises to assist her in transferring to another facility and that ACC wrongfully terminated her employment with the company. (Amd. Compl.at ¶¶ 15-17). ACC has moved for summary judgment on all claims.

II. Standard for Granting Summary Judgment

Although summary judgment should be cautiously invoked, it is an integral part of the Federal Rules, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 1). The standard for summary judgment is found in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c):

[Summary judgment] . . . shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Summary judgment will be granted "only where the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, where it is quite clear what the truth is . . . [and where] no genuine issue remains for trial, . . . [for] the purpose of the rule is not to cut litigants off from their right of trial by jury if they really have issues to try." Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962) (quoting Sartor v. Arkansas Natural Gas Corp., 321 U.S. 620, 627 (1944)). See also Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994).

Moreover, the purpose of the procedure is not to resolve factual issues, but to determine if there are genuine issues of fact to be tried. Lashlee v. Sumner, 570 F.2d 107, 111 (6th Cir. 1978). The court's duty is to determine only whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the jury; it does not weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter. ...


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